St. Joseph County will soon have space for a dedicated county morgue.
Currently, the coroner’s office has no place to store bodies long-term or for relatives to identify the deceased.
The office is currently storing the bodies in a cooler at the cemetery and transferring them to a funeral home for visitation. There is also no room to isolate potentially infectious bodies or to allow staff to decontaminate themselves.
“None of this can be provided in the current offices on the fourth floor of [the County-City Building]not just because of its location, but for its size,” project manager John Butler told county commissioners May 4.
Earlier this year, the county council set aside $380,000 in US bailout funding for a dedicated morgue — $200,000 to buy a building, $118,000 to pay for facility upgrades and $62,000 to buy new equipment.
On Tuesday, the County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of a former chiropractor’s office at 1622 E. Mishawaka Ave. for $186,000.
“We look forward to being able to purchase this building,” county coroner Dr. Patricia Jordan said at the meeting. “We were able to stay within our budget…so we plan to use some of that money to close off the back of the building.”
Some neighborhood neighbors, however, have expressed concern about living across the street from a morgue. Pam Claeys called for the commissioners’ decision to be tabled after a neighborhood meeting with Jordan next week.
“As you can imagine, our neighborhood is freaking out about a morgue,” she said. “We met with Dr. Jordan…and she understands that our neighbors – some have questions about chemicals and traffic and what it’s going to be like.”
Jordan said she was committed to answering questions from neighbors, but her office had already lost bids on three buildings and needed to act quickly.
“We are committed to not disrupting the neighborhood,” she said. “We have very low expectations of any disruption there.”
The commissioners ultimately approved the purchase in a unanimous vote.
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